There are a plethora of political rhetoric books dueling for the top of the bestseller list right now, from skinny, smart Ann Coulter's "Treason" to the stupid white man himself, Michael Moore, with "Dude, Where's My Country?"
But despite a political-sounding subtitle ("How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror"), Brendan Miniter's "Losing Bin Laden" does not belong lumped in with those works of punditry.
In fact, Miniter - a Wall Street Journal columnist and investigative reporter for publications ranging from the New York Times to Atlantic Monthly - goes out of his way to give President Clinton credit where it's due.
Miniter cites the often-effective cases of the law enforcement side of Clinton's anti-terror effort, particularly the foiling of the Millennium Plot. But that is also the crux of the weakness of Clinton's so-called war on terror.
The problem, as Miniter shows, is Clinton and most of his administration treated the "war on terror" strictly as a law enforcement problem to the point that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright worried after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that a quick response might lead us to attacking the "wrong" terrorists.
This mentality was so strictly enforced that the CIA did not see any data from the investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing until 1996 - and then it was because a journalist handed them the materials. That meant three years went by in which the intelligence agencies did not hunt for Osama bin Laden or know of his involvement with the Iraqis who set up the bombing, Miniter reveals.
Bin Laden was a constant thorn in the side of Clinton from day one, even though most Americans never heard his name until Clinton's second term.
Actually, it began even earlier - during the presidential transition, al-Qaida bombed the Aden Hotel in Yemen, targeting Americans. The first Bush administration chose the tradition of letting the incoming administration determine its response, and none was forthcoming.
With America's failure to craft an anti-terrorist policy after the first WTC bombing and the U.S. retreat from bin Laden-trained guerillas in Somalia in 1993, the pattern was set. Al-Qaida operated with impunity for the next five years, and its targets, ambitions and organization grew.
Much of this is well known and would not merit a rehash in book form. What sets "Losing Bin Laden" apart is Miniter's original reporting from Sudan and discussion of the Clinton White House's policy on informants that led to disaster.
While law enforcement is allowed to use informants with a criminal past, the Clinton administration set a policy that American intelligence agencies could not use anyone with dirty hands. This micro-policy got the macro treatment in the case of Sudan, one of Africa's most brutal places. The story that the Sudanese government offered to hand over bin Laden when he was expelled from their country is well known, and it's well documented here.
But the extent of the Sudanese leaders' hopes to curry favor with the United States by offering their help against al-Qaida is told here in Miniter's first-hand reporting of interviews with officials, copies of documents and intelligence photos.
The Sudanese made extraordinary efforts to hand over bin Laden or his henchmen on at least five occasions. When Sudan made its widely reported offer to turn over bin Laden to America, it was holding the two terrorists who later were in charge of the Cole bombing. The men were released after the Clinton administration rebuffed the offer.
The Sudanese offered detailed travel records of al-Qaida operatives, but no American ever came to look at them. Sudan even hired a lobbyist, Janet McElligot, to try to stir up interest in Washington in the information and assistance it was offering.
At the same time, Clinton fund-raiser Monsoor Ijaz was trying to get the president to take action, but he was told nothing would happen before the 1996 election - a familiar and cynical refrain that illustrates the administration's true priority.
Later, when the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan offered to take out the arch-terrorist, Clinton officials shot the proposal down, Miniter reveals.
"Losing Bin Laden" is a first-class piece of reporting, written with an immediacy that is sometimes as exciting as a thriller. Bolstering his case is the fact that Miniter's chief American sources are Clinton counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the heavily connected Ijaz, CIA chief James Woolsey and even such Clinton partisans as Sandy Berger and Bill Richardson.
Finally, Miniter wraps up with information on the connections between al-Qaida and Iraq, which have been ignored by the major media. "Losing Bin Laden" should not be missed by anyone who wants to be well informed on this crucial subject.